Arctic Drilling – The End of the Season

by Captain Alec Provan 2013


With nights drawing in and ice forming in the Beaufort Sea, the time has come for the drill ships to cease operations and return to the safety of McKinley Bay where they will remain throughout the long winter. The drill ship Canmar Explorer 3 has been drilling at one location for the duration of the 1981 season and Dome Petroleum management was anxious to assess the potential of the well. (Photograph from the Provan collection.)


With sea ice rapidly forming, the time available for testing is short, and the full support of the icebreaker fleet will be required to break the floes which threaten to tear the vessel from its moorings. (Photograph from the Provan collection.)


This image appears to show the Explorer 3 proceeding through the ice but, in fact, the ice is moving past the vessel, leaving a stretch of open water astern of the vessel. (Photograph from the Provan collection.)


The well test is conducted by means of a pipeline supported by a flare–boom extending from the ship’s side. (Photograph from the Provan collection.)


Crude oil and /or petroleum gas, under pressure from the well, are forced through nozzles and immediately ignited, lighting up the night sky with an immense ball of fire. (Photograph from the Provan collection.)


The flare–boom is immersed in a dense spray of water to prevent it from melting in the intense heat. (Photograph from the Provan collection.)


Meanwhile the ice is thickening and as soon as the testing is completed, the well is secured, the moorings released and the drillship, escorted by the ice–breaking fleet, returns to McKinley Bay to join the rest of the fleet, now safely winterized and ready to face the winter storms. (Photograph from the Provan collection.)


On this occasion (1981), the Canmar Explorer 3 is drydocked on arrival in McKinley Bay, enabling some repairs to be carried out below the waterline, before proceeding to the winter mooring area. The last photograph shows the recently arrived floating drydock, the Canmar Careen, with the Canmar Explorer 3 high and dry, and ready for the welders and technicians to proceed with the necessary repairs. While the drill ships are laid up over the winter, the recent innovation of artificial islands and semi–submersible barges allows for further drilling activity during the dark days and nights until the sun rises above the horizon again. (Photograph from the Provan collection.)


Editor’s note: Captain Alec Provan spent two drilling seasons working with Canmar Petroleum as a Mate in drill ships in the Beaufort Sea. A well–known mariner he is retired on Vancouver Island BC. (All photographs in this article copyright to Captain Alec Provan.)

To quote from this article please cite:

Provan, Captain Alec (2013) Arctic Drilling - End of Season. 2013.


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